IBM Digital Health Pass puts privacy first

As people may need to present their health status to return to public places, organizations are looking for solutions that can help calculate risk of COVID-19 while protecting privacy.

By | 3 minute read | August 25, 2020

People on street wearing masks.

Local governments are re-opening communities and lifting stay-at-home orders, which means people are starting to return to their “new normal.” Digital health passports are emerging as a technology solution that enable individuals to present their health status so they can return to a physical location, such as a workplace, school, stadium or airline flight.

As part of IBM’s larger efforts to support organizations, we have developed a digital health platform, called IBM Digital Health Pass. It is a blockchain-based platform designed to incorporate multiple data sources as specified by each organization – such as test results and onsite temperature scans – which can allow individuals to share their health pass through an encrypted digital wallet on their smartphone. Digital Health Pass is part of IBM Watson Works, a suite of applications that use data, AI technology, and blockchain to help employers make decisions on three critical areas: workplace re-entry and facilities management, workplace safety, and contact tracing and care management. These solutions were designed to give employers the insights they need, so they and their employees can feel more confident in a return to the workplace.

While we see great opportunity for organizations looking to verify health status, using these types of solutions for data-driven decision making, we know that privacy is central to adoption. Rightfully so; protecting health information is incredibly important, and we have designed our solution with privacy as the starting point.

To take a closer look at how IBM Digital Health Pass could support organizations, here are some highlights of how we are piloting the solution:

  • Organizations design the business rules behind the health status.

Like a credit score, which is based on multiple data points, yet the lender never sees detailed, private financial information, organizations can design criteria to generate a health status. Unlike a credit score, however, IBM Digital Health Pass is designed to recognize that an organization should be able to design its rules for developing a health status that fits a fluid situation.

  • IBM Digital Health Pass enables individuals to share their health status.

Instead of sharing a granular level of detail about sensitive health information – such as lab results or personal medical history – IBM Digital Health Pass enables individuals to present their health status through their health pass.

  • Organizations determine their response to the health status.

Because organizations may tailor the criteria of the health status, an individual’s health status may vary from place to place. For example, an airline may have a more stringent system for establishing wellness status for passengers boarding a plane than a restaurant may have for diners seeking outdoor seating.

  • Individuals control access to their data.

Each person must give consent to release personal health data to be part of their health status. For example, they could choose to share their thermal scans and vaccination records, and they can still withhold access to lab results. What they choose to share may impact the final health status. They also have control over which organizations can see their health status, which they can show from their health pass that is stored only in their digital wallet.

Trust and transparency remain paramount when developing a platform like a digital health passport, or any solution that handles sensitive personal information. IBM has a steadfast commitment to data responsibility, as articulated in our Principles for Trust and Transparency. Putting privacy first is an important priority for managing and analyzing data in response to these complex times.